When Jerry Brown replaced Arnold Schwarzenegger as Governor of California, he inherited a state with a $26 billion deficit and near financial collapse. In response, Governor Brown proposed a mix of tax extensions and budget cuts to close the deficit and position California to rebuild. Among the painful cuts proposed, people with developmental disabilities were targeted with reductions of over 20% of their services.
The member leaders of the California SEIU DD Council rallied to the defense of the people they serve. We called an emergency meeting to develop a winning strategy and tactics to protect the services our consumers need.
We worked in the large DD coalition with advocates, consumer and family groups, provider organizations, and others to discuss strategy and messaging for the DD community. We testified at key legislative hearings and lobbied. We wrote their legislators and newspapers. We reached out to advocates and provider groups all across California to plan rallies and other actions together.
In my part of the state, we held a rally at the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse and got some excellent media coverage during the evening news.
The outpouring of concern from the California DD community was overwhelming. As more people become aware of the threat to services, more people began to show up. The February 10 Senate hearing on the DD budget witnessed one of the largest crowds ever to show up for a hearing in the state’s history. The hearing room overflowed, the overflow rooms overflowed, the Capitol Police had to close off part of the Capitol because of the throngs of people with developmental disabilities, their families, providers and direct support workers. People came and spoke their truth. And they were heard.
A week later, the Legislature dramatically reduced the level of cuts to the DD system.
Assemblywoman Holly Mitchel (D-Los Angeles) highlighted the powerful impact the testimonies and rallies had on the Legislature.
“You can see flat statistics on a piece of paper,” Mitchell said, “but then you hear a mother talk about ‘I am a parent of an adult with a developmental disability, and my husband and I lay awake at night wondering what will happen.’ … I truly believe all of those witnesses and the thousands of witness communications we received made a significant difference.”
Now our members are focused on working with the Administration on minimizing the damage from the remaining budget reductions and in fighting to support the Governor’s revenue package – so deeper cuts can be avoided. We are proud to have done our share in protecting the rights of people with developmental disabilities and the services they rely on.